Monday, March 31, 2014

I’ve got the Runs: Joe Kelly’s Deadpool (Deadpool 1-33, 1997-2000)

Deadpool loves married! Marvel announced earlier this year that its overmarketed Merc-with-a-mouth will be getting hitched in April’s issue 27 (issue 26 came out last week), a megasized book featuring backup strips from the creators who have helped shape the character over the years, including Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Christopher Priest, Frank Tieri, Gail Simone, Daniel Way and more.

All of those writers put their stamps on the character. Nicieza co-created Deadpool with Rob Liefeld and a decade later partnered him with Cable for a buddy-cop comedy that totally shouldn’t have worked but did. Priest made Deadpool obscenely self-aware. Tieri returned him to the Weapon X program. Simone body-swapped him and replaced him with a completely different character. Way gave him multiple voices in his head, a facet of the character that made its way into a 2013 video game. And current writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn have woven Wade Wilson deeper into the tapestry of the larger Marvel Universe (while letting their comedian friends write letters to the editor and creating SHIELD agents in the image of 30 Rock’s Scott Adsit).

But there was a time, long before all that, when Deadpool was a relative baby in the universe, a supporting player in X-Force who carried a pair of miniseries but otherwise was known as the guy who looked like a cross between Spider-Man and Deathstroke the Terminator. Kelly gave Deadpool a backstory, people to care about, people to spar with and about a billion pop culture jokes in between.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the book was a commercial success, of course.

I was told we were canceled almost every third issue, and it got to be so ridiculous because I couldn’t plan anything. Eventually I left with issue #33 because I was just tired of being told we would be gone soon. I had more stories, but I feel I said everything I wanted to and it was a good place to leave,” he told Bleeding Cool in an October 2013 interview.

And Kelly gave old ’Pool a proper ending, letting him walk off into the sunset with his beloved Death, but with the caveat that he was only 99 percent dead and would likely be revived in 30 days.

But back to the beginning. Kelly sets the tone right away in issue No. 1, having Deadpool sneak up on a Bolivian guerilla squad while at the same time speaking his yellow-box exposition out loud.

At the outset, Wade's supporting cast includes Weasel, his weapons and tech supplier; Blind Alfred, an Aunt May lookalike he keeps prisoner; Gerry, a Haight-Ashbury hobo in whom our antihero confides; Patch (not this one), a diminutive mustachioed man who gives Wade his jobs; CF, a fellow merc who Wade regularly puts Looney Tunes-style hurts on, to no permanent injury; Fenway, another merc who talks in baseball speak (none more one-note); and T-Ray, an albino Akuma-from-Street Fighter knockoff who antagonizes Wade at every opportunity, wears a bandage on his nose at all times and knows magic.

Kelly's run begins a long line of writers showing Wade he could be a great hero if he wasn't such a self-loathing a-hole. Right off the bat, he risks his life to stabilize a gamma core nearing critical mass in Antarctica after a fight with Alpha Flight's Sasquatch. (Yup, Sasquatch, that was the big "get" for the first issue of this series, though to be fair, this was not long after Onslaught, and most of the big Marvel heroes were in a pocket dimension. But still, Wolverine was available. I’m pretty sure he had no nose at the time, but he was available.)

The first DP series also introduced much of the world to Ed McGuinness, whose blocky, yet-round-at-the-edges style has provided the perfect pencils for Superman, Hulk, Nightcrawler and more since then. Some of the most fun art is in the scenes at Hellhouse, where mercs go to get their orders and McGuinness and other artists go to draw background characters who look like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat characters, because it was the ’90s.

Kelly was an early adopter of the recap page at the beginning of the book explaining the players and their current predicaments plus jokes and jokes and jokes. Not long after the book's debut, Marvel began including recap pages with many more of their books, sometimes in gatefold format. Nicieza’s later Cable and Deadpool series also used the recap page to set things up and deliver additional jokes.

The series also sets up a long-term frenemyship with Taskmaster, who before Kelly was an obscure Avengers villain but after becoming a recurring Deadpool character went on to be a key part of the post-Civil War "Initiative" storyline and even star in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.

’Pool’s romantic allegiances shift pretty quickly during the first year. He starts the series crushing on X-Force member Siryn, a by-product of a teamup with her and father Banshee in a Mark Waid/Ian Churchill mini that ran a couple years before the series. Not long after, he begins hanging out with Typhoid Mary, the multipersonality character from Daredevil. But perhaps the most interesting romantic endeavour he pursues under Kelly is Death, the feminized concept previously only wooed by Thanos. Of course, one could argue Deadpool’s dalliance with Death is also a far-too-obvious metaphor for Wade’s desire for an end to his suffering, the same suffering that drives him to be a nonstop joke-and-murder machine. But the whole Siryn thing was probably bordering on Angel-and-Husk creepy anyway.

Also, hope ya like dated references! The first five issues alone include jokes about Speed, Ace Ventura, The Nanny, Cindy Crawford, Kerri Strug, Sally Struthers, the musical Stomp, Diff'rent Strokes, Johnny Dangerously, the Macarena, Lionel Richie, My Left Foot, Alice Cooper, Mr. Belvedere, the SNL land shark sketch, Webster, the Olsen twins, Yanni, Wilford Brimley, the Partridge Family, "Time to make the donuts," The Tick, Herbie the Love Bug, Hulk Hogan, Ginsu knives, This Is Your LifeCarrie and Polaroids. And man, lemme tell ya, I found every word of it high-larious in 1997.

Kelly's Deadpool is traded in Deadpool Classic volumes 1 through 5. The first volume includes only the first issue of the series, as it bookends his first appearance in 1991’s New Mutants 98 and two limited series.

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/26

All-New X-Factor #5
Story: Peter David
Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico

We're five issues into All-New X-Factor, and I admit to feeling bad I haven't reviewed an issue yet. It's not for lack of quality. X-Factor was one of the consistently best books Marvel published for years, and the new version hasn't lost that quality. It's exactly for that reason that it's fallen below this radar; books this good regularly just sort of are expected to be good. But after talking about Peter David on Friday, I knew I had to discuss the new issue. The new team, the corporate X-Factor in the service of Serval Industries, has a very different dynamic than the previous one. The last X-Factor was a dysfunctional family; this one isn't there yet. There's a very funny dynamic here, with the two siblings sniping at each other, Gambit not trusting Quicksilver, the newly added Danger acting really weird, and the manipulative CEO of Serval Industries, Harrison Snow, clearly up to something. This issue begins the two issue arc that will round out the team's roster, with the first appearances in the series of Warlock and Cypher. Warlock is seemingly in league with his evil father, The Magus, who is hiding among humanity with the most conspicuous and evil sounding human name ever; clearly he doesn't get that there are no people with the last name Smaug. The action sequences are top not, with artist Carmine Di Giandomenico pulling out all the stops, but it's the smaller scenes that really grab. Danger's strange obsession with Gambit, after he helped reboot her in the previous issue, is interesting, building a different relationship between them, and fleshing out Danger. And I have to say, for everyone who rags on Cyclops, Havok once again proves to be the creepier Summers brother with his having Quicksilver hanging around X-Factor to spy on his ex, Polaris. This isn't going to come back to bite Havok on the ass when his occasionally unbalanced ex-girlfriend finds out. Not at all.

Bloodhound: Crowbar Medicine #5
Story: Dan Jolley
Art: Leonard Kirk

The new Bloodhound mini-series wraps up in an issue that is intense final issue that ties up all the story points, but leaves the characters in a very dark place. Clev, the man who hunts super people, his partner, Agent Saffron Bell, and their erstwhile super powered ally, Terminus, confront Dr. Morgenstern, the man who has been giving everyday people superpowers. Morgenstern's reasoning behind his program is warped and sent chills up my spine, especially in its logic. But in pushing Clev's buttons, Morgenstern made a mistake, and the confrontation comes to a bloody conclusion. The core of the issue is not the action or violence, and there's plenty of both, but the emotion. Morgenstern's pain at the death of his son, that has not faded, parallels Clev's own loss, caused by Morgenstern, and we see Clev as a man who feels like he has nothing left to lose. He ends up in a place even worse than the one he was in when the series began, both literally and figuratively. While the ending is a downer, it works in the context of everything we've seen in the series; not everyone gets a happy ending. The final discussion of Morgenstern's plan furthers what I read as a comparison to super powers and firearms, dealing with some of today's most divisive political topics in a way that comics do so well. I hope that we get to see more Bloodhound in the future, so if you didn't try the series, a trade will be arriving shortly, so give it a shot.

Manhattan Projects #19
Story: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Ryan Browne

After the past few issues, stories that have forwarded the main plot of the series, it's nice to go back a revisit the inner mindscape of Joseph Oppenheimer, where the war continues between Joseph and his brother, Robert, who he consumed and took his mind, especially after the shocking ending of the previous issue and the seeming death of Joseph. Hickman's story is exciting, with all sorts of crazy ideas that work because we're in a world completely controlled by the wills of the combatants, but artist Ryan Browne is the absolute star.  Having drawn the first "Finite Oppenheimers" story, returns to draw the bizarre world, with all the different versions of Oppenheimer in all of their different costumes, all the bizarre weapons, and all the chaos of massive battles of different versions of one guy massacring other versions of himself. I'm being cagey, because I don't want to give away all of the cool things that Hickman provides Browne to draw, because the joy of the issue is experiencing each page and all the detail worked into it. Browne's style works well with the series; his won but not so far from the work of series regular artist Nick Pitarra to be jarring. The issue ends with a resolution of the end of the previous issue, showing who it was who shot Oppenheimer in the real world, and it's the return of a character I have been waiting to return for some time. Every issue of Manhattan Projects is so stuffed with crazy ideas and twists that I keep thinking, "Nothing's left to surprise me," but every issue I'm proven wrong, and I love that.

Sandman: Overture #2
Story: Neil Gaiman
Art: JH Williams III

It's been five months since the first issue of Sandman: Overture, and I admit that I thought even my excitement, as an avid fan of all things Neil Gaiman, might have been dulled by the length of the wait. But by the end of the first page, I was enchanted again. The issue opens not directly where the first issue left off, but in the present, nearly a century after the events of the previous issue. Daniel, the current human incarnation of Dream, meets with Mad Hettie, an immortal bag lady from the original Sandman, and retrieves an item that I can only imagine will have importance in the future. With that, we return to the convocation of Dreams from the end of the last issue, with the different aspects of Dream having a conversation. Or is it a monologue? There is an amusing discussion of the semantics of dealing with an infinite number of the same being, all slightly different, speaking to each other, before events start to play out. The oldest Dream, the Dream of the first beings, talks to the others, and as each of the Dreams seems to be pulled away, Morpheus summons one who can answer his questions about the death of the Dream in the previous issue and what he was told about a coming end of all things. And in the end, Morpheus heads off with the Dream of Cats to go to a place the Endless should not walk and meet with a being whose description left me with my jaw on the floor. For an issue where there is next to no action in the strict sense of the word, an issue that is for all intents and purposes and extended monologue, a lot happens. The understanding of the cosmology of the universe the Endless exist in is expanded, and the threat is made more clear. And as ever, the art of JH Williams III is something to behold. It is literally breathtaking; there were some of his trademark double page spreads that made my breath catch in my throat. The different Dreams are all meticulously crafted, all different yet still clearly aspects of one being, and the dream house that Daniel and Hettie walk through is a twisted house that is part Escher, part Giger, but all the lush painted art of Williams. According to Gaiman, we won't be seeing issue three until July, another four months, and while I won't say I'm not disappointed, the quality of the first two issues makes it worth the wait.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Lost Legends: The Uncollected and Out of Print Works of Peter David

Yesterday, Marvel made a big announcement: A new series starring Miguel O'Hara, the Spider-Man of the year 2099, was being launched, and it was being written by the character's creator, Peter David. I've written about Peter David before, in regards to his run on X-Factor and his adaptations of Stephen King's The Dark Tower. But that's barely scratching the surface of his work. Peter David is one of my favorite writers in comics (and other media), and so today I thought I'd touch on some of his work that you might not have read and isn't readily available. This work in either completely uncollected, or has lapsed out of print in trades. I'm not going to talk about the original Spider-Man 2099, though, since I intend to do a full piece on that when the series gets closer. And now, without further ado, the lost legends of Peter David.

Atlantis Chronicles

Peter David does great small, personal stories that are character-centric, but is equally at home writing on a grand canvas. The grandest canvas he might have ever written on was in DC Comics' Atlantis Chronicles, a seven issue mini-series that traced the history of the lost continent of Atlantis, from shortly before it's sinking to the birth of Aquaman. There are three distinct arcs within the series. The first is the story of King Orin, the king at the time of the sinking, and his brother, Shalako. From them, we get the history of the two great cities of Atlantis, Poseidonis and Tritonis, and a blood feud between the two brothers and their children and grandchildren. Feuds between, and blood spilled by, brothers becomes a central theme of Peter David's run on Aquaman and related titles, and the second arc furthers it by investigating Atlan, a great sorcerer of Atlantean history, and his brothers, Haumond and Kraken, and Atlantis's invasion of the world above the waves in ancient times. The final arc, the shortest, deals with Queen Atlanna and her marriage to King Trevis. Atlanna is the mother of Aquaman, and Peter David made a serious retcon, changing Aquaman's birth father from a human lighthouse keeper to Atlan, the immortal wizard he had introduced in the previous arc. The series gave plenty of background to Atlantis, creating a story in perfect scope with it's timeline, set over millennia. It also gave a reason why the Atlanteans had a problem with blonde hair, the reason historically given to why Aquaman was cast out of the city as an infant. Estaban Maroto's art is gorgeous, done in the European style, and while each era of Atlantis is distinct, each has a continuity of design that follows the evolution of the undersea civilization. The mini-series was written as a lead in to a new Aquaman ongoing that wound up doing to a different writer, but some years later, DC came back to David, who got to write the story that he had planned.


The run on Aquaman lasted over forty issues, and built a new vision of Atlantis for the modern DC Universe. The run is best known for it being the series where Aquaman lost his hand and got a harpoon and hook in its place. But there's a whole lot more to it than that. The series built on the history set forth in the Atlantis Chronicles, with characters like Atlan and Kordax the Cruel, and with lost cities, magicians, and alien invasions. David took a lot of the other underwater and Atlantean characters of the DC Universe and brought them into one world, including the World War II era heroes Tsunami and Neptune Perkins, the ancient sorcerer Arion and his granddaughter, Power Girl (at least at the time she was thought to be his granddaughter. Power Girl's background has changed even more times than Hawkman's), and the former Global Guardian, Dolphin. Dolphin became a major part of the cast, becoming the love interest for Aquaman, and then the object of a love triangle between Aquaman and his sidekick, Garth. It was during this run as well that Garth went from being Aqualad to Tempest. David developed Garth's character, giving him a new set of powers that made him more distinct from Aquaman, and helped bring him out of Aquaman's shadow. The series also continued to play on the theme of brother versus brother that Atlantis Chronicles began, with Aquaman at war with his brother, Orm, or Ocean Master, and the war between Aquaman's sons Koryak, the illegitimate son Aquaman discovered he had early in the series, and Arthur Jr., the possibly resurrected son of Aquaman and Mera, or possibly the son of Thanatos, a dark version of Aquaman. Unfortunately, these plot threads were left unresolved when David left the series unexpectedly, but the series did a great job of making Atlantis a viable part of the DC Universe and both Aquaman and Tempest more a part of that universe. Nearly all of the developments have been retconned out by the New 52, but that doesn't take away from the underwater adventures David crafted.


When Peter David started writing Supergirl, it was during the period when DC Comics wanted Superman to be the last son of Krypton, so there were supposed to be no other Kryptonians in the DC Universe. So the Supergirl he was given was a telekinetic shapeshifter plasma being called Matrix. At the beginning of the series, Matrix is bonded with a human girl, Linda Danvers, and the series explores their bonding. But more than that, it becomes one of the earlier times where Peter David explores the theme of faith and religion, one that will become central to a work I'll be discussing shortly. The series moves from what might be a traditional superhero book into a mix of the supernatural and horror, with Supergirl becoming and Earth Born Angel, one of three who work the will of the almighty on Earth. Not only is Linda tested, but we see her mother, Sylvia, who is an ordinary woman with strong faith, dealing with the calamities that come from a superhero in a small town. One of the regular supporting characters/antagonists of the book is Buzz, a demon who tells a story in an early issue that does something DC Comics of the era rarely did, which is tie Vertigo into DC by referencing the events of the Sandman story, "Season of Mists." As the series progressed, the mythology David built around heaven and angels in the DCU takes on an interesting life, and he builds a whole new supernatural corner of the Universe that has really not been explored, including Wally, a young boy who may or may not have been an aspect of God. Over the course of the eighty issues, readers are treated to watching the Supergirl aspect of the character grow more human, and Linda grow up. The final arc of the series, titled "Many Happy Returns," is particularly well regarded, as it saw the return of a pre-Crisis Supergirl. The end is a sad one, one I don't want to spoil any of, but it's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Linda really didn't appear much after that, but the themes were furthered in another Peter David series.

Fallen Angel

Initially published by DC Comics, where it ran for twenty issues, Fallen Angel was a series that Peter David eventually took to IDW Publishing, where it ran for thirty-three issues and two mini-series. While initially seemingly a follow up to Supergirl, with the main character being that series title heroine after the ending of the series, it quickly became something very different. Lee, or Liandra, lives in the city of Bete Noire, which is the center of causality in the world; what happens in the city changes the world outside it. The Fallen Angel, as Lee is called, serves as a court of last appeal for those lost souls who have nowhere else to turn. The book exists in a world of perpetual moral grey; even Lee, our heroine, is not entirely a heroic character. The characters around her are even more grey, many of them downright evil, but are always painted with a human brush; they all have their good points as well as their bad, although some, like the Magistrate of Bete Noire Dr. Juris, have far fewer good ones than others. The first arc of the IDW run, "To Serve in Heaven," is one of my favorite Peter David stories, revealing Liandra's origin, which has a fascinating theological bent, one that would I'm sure offend anyone of a fundamentalist mentality, but taken as a literary device makes the senseless universe make a lot of sense, even if it's very dark sense. And for you Whedon fans out there, the -first mini-series published after the series proper ended, The Return, features an appearance by Illyria, elder god from Angel. The availability on these trades might be a bit better than the other books on this list, but is spotty enough I felt like I should include it, since I view it as one of the definitive works of Peter David.

The Incredible Hulk #397-467 & -1

When it comes to comics, Peter David is probably most famous for his extended run on The Incredible Hulk, a run that lasted for over one hundred issues, and is arguably the greatest run on that character. Certainly, none of the modern runs by the likes of Greg Pak and Jason Aaron would have been possible without the groundwork David laid. And while Marvel has collected the first half of the run in the Hulk Visionaries: Peter David trades, the second half remains uncollected, and this is some of the best work on the entire series. While those first trades include art by Image founder Todd MacFarlane and legendary Hulk artist Dale Keown, the rest of the run includes early work from Gary Frank, work from Liam Sharpe and Angel Medina, and the run was rounded out by Adam Kubert. While some of the issue sin the middle are clearly marred by the editorial interference that was rampant in Marvel comics at the time, there's still so much in those seventy plus issues, it's hard to plug it all in here. Peter David's writing is never decompressed, but with the narrative continuing for over ten years, he finds ways to cram more into each issue. Hulk and Betty's relationship develops, as does that of Hulk's best friend, Rick Jones, and his girlfriend/wife, Marlo. We see the conclusion of the saga of the Pantheon, the group of international trouble shooters with ties to Greek Myth that Hulk works with. We get an interesting inversion of the classic Hulk/Banner relationship. The Hulk spends time without Banner in him, and it's done in a way that's different than when it's been tried before. Hulk briefly becomes a Horseman of Apocalypse. Thunderbolt Ross returns. And that's just a handful of stories. Peter David does a ton with a character that any writers would write off as a character that just smashes things, and that vision is what has allowed other writers to do different and interesting things with Hulk since then. There are many issues of note within this part of the run, but I want to draw attention to a few. Issue 418 is the issue which cover I selected above, the wedding of Rick and Marlo, an issue that is both hilarious and heartfelt, and ends with a trademark Peter David pun. Issue 420, "Lest Darkness Come," deals with the very real issue of AIDS in a way that very few superhero comics could. "Grave Matters," part of a month where all Marvel comics were numbered -1, tells the story of the death of Bruce Banner's abusive father, Brian, and is narrated by a weird circus Stan Lee; it is probably the best of those -1 issues, and adds depth to the relationship that in many ways defined Bruce's life. And the final issue, 467, "The Lone and Level Sands," is narrated by a Rick Jones of the future who recalls what happened to Hulk for the decades after the events of the previous issue. It's a send off to a run that still stands as one of the greatest of the 90s, and shows David had plenty of further ideas for the Hulk without leaving the readers fuming about dangling plot threads. The final pages are some of the most emotionally draining and beautiful that I have ever seen in any comic.

There are a lot of other works by Peter David, including runs on Star Trek, the Young Justice comic that loosely inspired the animated series, his teen-spy series for Dark Horse Spyboy, and so many more. And that's not even touching his novels. I have a couple projects in the works involving Peter David, one that will dig more deeply into the Hulk, but that's for another day. For today, why don't you go out and pick up a book by everybody's favorite Writer of Stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/19

American Vampire: Second Cycle #1
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque's American Vampire returns with a new volume in an issue that i a great place for new readers to jump on. The final issues of the previous volume did a great job of closing that first chapter, and so our series two principle characters, American vampires Skinner Sweet and Pearl Jones are in very different places than the last time we saw them; set in the sixties, a decade after the end of the last arc, Pearl is running a halfway house for vampires trying to flee they're past and make good lives without killing, and Skinner is, "The Sugar Man," a highway bandit riding a motorcycle, not the evil mutant. Each character has a gorgeous two page spread beautifully put together by Albuquerque that gives a montage of their pasts, and no knowledge of the previous series is required. The issue opens with a scene of Pearl defending her newest charge from a lynch mob, which is done very cleverly, playing off reader expectations, since the reader doesn't find out until later the girl is a vampire, and seeing a large group of white people with pitch forks and torches chasing a young African American girl conjures images that aren't out of horror movies, but historical horrors. There is more to the girl than seems, as she is tied to the mysterious Gray Trader, the villain who was hinted to in the final issue of volume one. Skinner, meanwhile, heads to hijack a cargo that is not what he expects, and seems to run afoul of the Gray Trader himself. The Gray Trader is the new mystery to keep readers guessing, and to draw Pearl and Skinner back together in the dance they have danced since Skinner turned Pearl. American Vampire has done an excellent job of building its mythology and developing different threads, and it looks like the second half of the series will be drawing those threads together into a new, terrifying tapestry.

Buffy the Vampre Slayer: Season 10 #1
Story: Christos Gage
Art: Rebekah Isaacs

While I thought Season 9 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an improvement on the somewhat meandering Season 8, the real highlight of the Whedonverse comics last year was the wonderful Angel & Faith by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs. Gage knew the character well, and wrote character driven stories that explored his two leads and pushed them to new places they hadn't been before, while mixing in humor and action in big doses. Isaacs is an artist who has quite a few credits under her belt, and is just waiting for that one big project for her to become a breakout star; her characters are distinct, well wrought, and she draws great action, great character pieces, and some creepy monsters. When it was announced this team would be moving over to the main Buffy series with the new season, I was excited to see what they would do with the whole Scooby Gang, and it has paid off. While Willow and Spike appeared in Angel & Faith, Buffy herself didn't, and Gage hits it right out of the park in issue one with his narration from Buffy's point of view; he captures her voice, while also making her the confident character that she has completely developed into over the course of the last season. This issue ties up a loose end from last season, using that as a way to bring all the relevant characters into play, as Buffy and her allies fight off an horde of zompires, the mindless vampires created by the lack of magic the previous year. By issue's end, the zompires are destroyed, but the new breed of vampire introduced at the end of season nine confronts Buffy, and while it looks like things might end poorly, a couple old allies reappearing tip the balance. OK, SPOILER hats on, so stop here if you haven't read the end of Angel & Faith, or want to avoid knowing a bit of the end of the issue, even though it was telegraphed at the end of A&F. Buffy's reunion with the de-aged Giles is a scene that warmed my heart. Giles was one of my favorite characters in the Whedonverse, and his loss was keenly felt when he left the series (something Buffy references in her narration). I'm sure there will be plenty of humor down the line from a father figure in the body of a thirteen year old, but for the end of this issue, the teary moment when Buffy and Giles embrace is done so beautifully and wordlessly that it was definitely the moment of the week for me.

Daredevil #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Chris Samnee

For the past three years or so, Mark Waid's Daredevil has been a breath of fresh air. Since Frank Miller, Daredevil as a character has been mired in so much darkness that it's been hard to see the red costume in all that black. But when Waid came on, he brought some joy back to the character, making him fun and fearless without making him a poor man's Spider-Man. This was vastly helped by his artistic collaborators, especially Chris Samnee, who worked on much of the run. Last month saw the end of that volume, and this month sees the dawn of a new era. While many All-New Marvel Now! number ones introduce new creative teams on their books, the change in Daredevil is very much internal and plot driven. After the end of the last volume, Matt Murdock, Daredevil, has had to move to San Francisco, where he lived back in the 70s briefly. With his powers and identity public, Matt can work with the government of the city. I'm curious to see of Waid actually uses some of the material established with the Marvel Universe San Francisco back in Uncanny X-Men, or if he'll just start fresh; I have no problem with either, frankly, but am curious. We get an issue that has Daredevil going to rescue a kidnapped girl, and then must escape the terrorists who kidnapped her. It's a good place to start, because you get a good impression of exactly how Daredevil's powers work, something that Samnee has developed a great visual representation for, and to see the new status quo with his new partner, both in law and crime fighting, his maybe-sorta-ex-girlfriend, Kirsten McDuffie (in all fairness, there are very few female characters in the Marvel Universe who aren't Matt Murdock's ex). The two have an easy banter that is charming, and Kirsten is willing to stand up to Matt, and even hit him back in a metaphorical way. The final page sets up a mystery that I don't expect to last long, but definitely left me scratching my head in a good way. If you have heard good things about Daredevil, this is a perfect place to jump on, so go for it.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi- Force War #5
Story: John Ostrander & Jan Duursema
Script: John Ostrander
Art: Jan Duursema

So far today I have written up three new number ones that are places to start a series. The final review of the day is a final issue, and more than just the final issue of a series or mini-series, but the end of an era. John Ostrander is one of my three favorite writers in comics, and he has had a run on Star Wars comics that stretches over a decade. With the license shifting from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics in 2015, a lot about Star Wars comics is up in the air, so this is definitely the last Star Wars comic by John Ostrander published by Dark Horse, and maybe ever. And it's a perfect send off. Working with his regular collaborator on these comics, artist Jan Duursema, Ostrander brings the story of the war between the Infinite Empire of the Rakata and the Jee'dai, the order that will someday become the Jedi of the films, to a close. Each of the major characters gets a resolution to their arc, and that's an achievement with such a large cast; but then again, Ostrander crams more into one issue than most writer do into three. Xesh, the Force Hound and sometimes Jee'Dai, and Shae Koda, have a showdown while Daegon Lok, the mad Jee'dai general, faces down Skal'nas, the leader of the Rakatan invasion. Sek'nos Rath, the Sith Jee'dai, faces his won darkness when he confronts Trill, the woman who betrayed him. And Tasha Ryo, the Twi'lek Jee'dai seer, finds her connection with the Force after it was severed. It's a very satisfactory end, and it leaves the world open if anyone wants to revisit it in the future. I am going to miss Ostrander and Duursema on Star Wars more than any other creative team, and I'm going to look forward to revisiting all their work in a re-read soon, something I intend to write up later in the year.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Recommended Reading & Listening for 3/21: The Thrilling Adventure Hour

Recently, writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker were announced as the new writers on Marvel's Thunderbolts. If you're a comic fan not familiar with Acker & Blacker, it's understandable; their Marvel credits include a couple annuals and the Wolverine: Season One graphic novel. But for some of us, Acker & Blacker are huge names. They are the creators of the live show/podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour, "America's favorite new time podcast in the style of old time radio." This doesn't sound like something I'd talk about on my blog that is dedicated to comics, but there is  The Thrilling Adventure Hour graphic novel, released from Archaia last year, so there is an actual comic to work with, along with themes that tie in to a lot of what I like to talk about here.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour has been playing in Los Angeles for about nine years, doing a night of different recurring serials. It's a wonderful mish-mash of genres, taking a couple of the story types that would have appeared on classic radio and mixing them together to come up with something wholly new and hilarious. The show presents stories with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but still finds a way to make you really care about many of the characters.

The regular cast of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, called the Workjuice Players, includes many actors that you might recognize, including Paul F. TompkinsPaget BrewsterMarc Evan JacksonMark GagliardiBusy PhilippsJames UrbaniakJohn DiMaggio, and others. Guest stars include such Hollywood luminaries as Nathan FillionMolly Quinn, Joshua MalinaGillian Jacobs, Linda CardelliniNatalie Morales, and a whole bunch more. Each monthly show in LA is usually bookended by two recurring segments, Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars (starring Marc Evan Jackson and Mark Gagliardi as Sparks Nevada and Croach the Tracker) and  Beyond Belief (starring Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster as those married mediums, Frank and Sadie Doyle), with other segments in between, as well as ads for the show's "sponsors," Workjuice Coffee and Patriot Brand Cigarettes.

Last year, through Kickstarter, a graphic novel was created based on The Thrilling Adventure Hour (abbreviated TAH from here on out for brevity's sake), with a short story for each of the recurring segments and a couple of the occasional ones. I'll give you a rundown of each of those segments, along with a quick discussion of the short in the graphic novel. It's a lot of information, but once you dig into the series, it'll all come to you pretty quickly, trust me. The graphic novel, by the way, had introductions from Patton Oswalt (who has guest starred) and Ed Brubaker (who has guest written), so if you don't entirely trust me, that's a pretty dang fine pedigree.

Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars
Illustrated by Randy Bishop

Sparks Nevada is a mash-up of western and sci-fi, about a swaggering square jawed hero, the titular Sparks Nevada, and his loyal Martian companion, Croach the Tracker. Sparks is the stereotypical western hero, at least on the surface, who has blasters and a pair of robot fists that he uses to stop rogue robots on Mars. Croach is under "onus," as he puts it, to Sparks for having saved his tribe, and thus must work off the onus by aiding Sparks. The onus never seems to run out, or if it does it comes back pretty quickly, so the two are always stuck together. Sparks doesn't really get Martian culture, and so pretty much brushes off much of what Croach says and does. Their dynamic is hilarious, and is one of the bedrocks of the series. This is by far the most serialized on the segments on Thrilling Adventure Hour, with recurring characters like The Red Plains Rider, a human raised by Martians who now defends her adopted home, The Barkeep, Felton, the typical western townsperson who runs in begging the Marshall for help, Rebecca Rose Rushmore, space Western novelist, Pemily Stallwark, champion of the punishment soccer, and Cactoid Jim, King of the Martian Frontier, who I'll discuss more in his own spin-off segment later. The short in the graphic novel is not continuity dependent, and does a great job of giving the reader, who might be unfamiliar with the series, a good introduction by giving a tale of Sparks and Croach fighting robot outlaws. Once you've finished the story, I would suggest starting the podcast archives at the first Sparks Nevada and working your way forward.

Phillip Fathom
Illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Phillip Fathom, the Deep Sea Detective, is a supporting character in another segment we'll get to shortly, Captain Laserbeam, but was given his own short in the graphic novel. I feel this works because he is a character who is firmly rooted in the comic book tradition. A merman of some sort, his origin remains unclear, whose parents died at sea, he now defends the harbor of Apex City with his San Andreas Trenchcoat, that seems to have an endless supply of gadgets. He has been voiced by a couple of different actors on the show, but that voice always resembles the growl of a recent actor who played a certain Caped Crusader on the big screen. The story in the graphic novel clearly draws those parallels even tighter with a villain who resembles that hero's arch foe. I would suggest podcast #79, "Tinker Taylor and Tyler Too!"

The Cross-Time Adventures of Colonel Tick-Tock
Illustrated by Chris Moreno

Colonel Tick-Tock is the chief agent of her majesty Queen Victoria's Royal Chrono Patrol, who keep time working on schedule. This is possibly the strangest of all the segments on TAH, with Colonel Tick-Tock and his Trick Clock often stop dinosaurs, vikings, and the like who have wandered into time anomalies and arrive in the wrong time period from hurting important historical figures. The fun of Colonel Tick-Tock is often how ridiculous these historical figures are, very much in a Mel Brooks History of the World Part 1 way, and include Saccho and Vanzeti as The Odd Couple and a recurring roll for none other than Nicola Tesla, a Matt Signal favorite. The story in the graphic novel deals with Colonel Tick-Tock going back to the dawn of man to stop a brilliant caveman from using his time machine to accidentally destroy history. So, yes, weird and silly. I would suggest podcast #31, "Electric Rivalries"

Captain Laserbeam
Illustrated by Lar deSouza

Captain Laserbeam is a classic, do-gooding superhero. With the aid of his Adventurekateers, he protects Apex City from supervillains who would feel very much at home on the classic Batman TV series, to which the segment owes a lot of inspiration. The running gags are familiar to comic fans, with a hero who is too good to be true, and kind of goofy; there is also a serious Tick vibe here. The motifs that run through each episode are the same, with the details shifting, feeling a lot like comics in the 50s. Particularly fun is the use of "team-up" between heroes to mean something very different and specific. The story in the graphic novel shows Captain Laserbeam's numerous number themed villains, especially Sudoku. Yes, a Sudoku themed villain with accompanying traps. I would suggest podcast #89, "Uncanny Exes!" or #49, "Poetic Injustice!"

Cactoid Jim, King of the Martian Frontier
Illustrated by Evan "Doc" Shaner

Cactoid Jim is part of the Sparks Nevada universe, a time displaced astronaut who now serves as one of Mars' defenders. Jim is good at pretty much anything, and is handsome and good natured to boot. His persona is drawn somewhat from the public persona of the actor who voices him, geek culture darling Nathan Fillion. The graphic story has Jim doing battle with Murdermen, creatures who, well, their name pretty well sums it up. Jim outfoxes them, like he usually does, and winds off riding off into the sunset after doing good. The difference between him and Sparks Nevada is that Jim has more of a "Golly gee, twas nothing, ma'am," attitude, versus the more jaded Sparks. I would suggest podcast #83, "Mayor's Retreat"

Jefferson Reid, Ace American
Illustrated by Evan Larson

Jefferson Reid is a segment that appeared early in TAH's history and then seemed to fade away, I want to believe partially because Nathan Fillion also voiced Reid, and frankly Cactoid Jim is a more fun character and the writers would rather write for Fillion as Jim. Reid is a World War II era Nazi smasher, with kid sidekicks and a can-do American attitude. With his best girl, Agent Abby Adams, and his boss, General Rex Flagwell, he is the star agent of the AVC, the American Victory Commission. In the graphic novel, he fights dead American soldiers reanimated by Nazis, a Nazi impostor, and his own reanimated dead sidekick. I would suggest podcast #21, "Ace and Mr. President"

Tales of the USSA,United Solar System Alliance
Illustrated by Natalie Nourigat

The final short in the Sparks Nevada universe, Tales of the USSA is a Star Trek like travel through the galaxy, with a touch more soap opera mixed in. Captain Gene Peeples captains a ship with his wife as XO, his daughter as an officer, and his least favorite ensign dating his daughter. The graphic novel has Peeples and his crew arrive at the planet of the Spiderpeople, where they have to make a treaty. Well, you can imagine since this is a comedy, that things go about as well as you might expect. I would suggest #58, "T-Minus"

Down in Moonshine Holler
Illustrated by Joanna Estep

Down in Moonshine Holler is the story of Banjo Bindlestuff, the hobo name of millionaire Jasper Manorlodge, who gave up his riches and rides the rails to find his true love, the Hobo Princess, alongside his hobo mentor, Gummy. Banjo and Gummy get into different wacky adventures, usually involving finding a woman who might be the Hobo Princess who turns out not to be, and Banjo must think of a way to get them out of a predicament by using, "The Hobo Way." The story in the graphic novel is, as far as I can tell, the only straight adaptation from an episode of the show (I'm still working my way through the entire archive of episodes, so I might have missed one), adapting episode #23, "The Lottery." This will be appreciated by you literature buffs, as Banjo and Gummy wind up in the town from Shirley Jackson's classic short story, The Lottery, and have to stop the stoning from happening so it doesn't poison the stone soup stone of the Hobo Duchess, Lulu Pepper. I would suggest #84, "Nativity Ploy."

Amelia Earhart, Fearless Flier
Illustrated by Joel Priddy

So, when Amelia Earhart disappeared, she didn't die. Instead, she became part of the AVC (from Jefferson Reid), and is now their secret time travelling air force, stopping Nazis from altering the timeline. Amelia Earhart has a similar vibe to Colonel Tick-Tock, since they both involve time travel and ludicrous versions of historical figures, but Amelia is much less passive and has the goal of stopping any number of classic Nazi-type villains, including a scientist brain in a jar, Otto Drangt, who appears in the graphic novel, along with Der Schneemann, a Nazi Yeti pilot. Amelia must rally a crew of pirates to help her stop the Nazis from altering the 1700s to take over America before it was America. I would suggest #44, "Vive Le Reich?"

Beyond Belief
Illustrated by Tom Fowler

And saving the best for last. Beyond Belief is the story of Frank and Sadie Doyle, boozy high society couple who just happen to be mediums and unwilling supernatural detectives. This is far and away my favorite segment, and I think many fans agree with me on that (Not to say the rest are bad, mind. I just love this). The relationship between Frank and Sadie is priceless, with the two of them deeply loving each other, and wanting nothing more than to enjoy their lives together with their other great love: booze. Alas, things keep coming to them asking for help, including ghosts, vampire, werewolves, mummies, witches, and chupacabras. The dynamic is based on Nick and Nora Charles, Dashiell Hammett's society detectives from The Thin Man, only with even more booze and some monsters thrown in for good measure. A lot of the episodes toss classic genre tropes on their heads, as well as classic horror stories. While there is some continuity here, more than most of the other segments, it is more episodic than Sparks Nevada, and can really be picked up anywhere. The story in the graphic novel involves a war between Irish vampires and mummies, a Japanese ghost girl, and forbidden love. As well as booze. Lots of booze. I found it hard to pick one or two episodes to recommend, so I wound up picking six, which I had to cull down from a longer list:

 #5 "Wishing Hell" (the origin of Frank)
#25 "Rosemary's Baby Shower" (The introduction of Sadie's best friend, vampire Donna Henderson)
#76 "Djinn and Tonic" (the Doyles find a lamp with a genie, and there's a great play on David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross between JK Simmons and Joe Mantegna)
#80 "Sarcophagus Now (The Doyles in an Egyptian pyramid meet Bast, the cat goddess, who is more catlike than usually presented)
#147 "The Complete Christmas on Mars Show 2012 (the Beyond Belief segment is guest written by Ed Brubaker, and called "Claus and Effect")
#153 "When Cthulu Cthalls (Acolytes of Cthulu come knocking. What more can you ask for?)

This is just scratching the surface of all the fun that can be found in The Thrilling Adventure Hour. There are other segments, recurring characters, and guests that can be found by looking up the show's web-site, which I'll link to below. I love old time radio, and The Thrilling Adventure Hour takes it, dusts it off, slaps on a new coat of paint, and creates something magical in its own right.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour graphic novel is available at any comic shop or bookstore. To learn more, you can go to the show's website, or download podcasts from the store of your smart phone or mobile device.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I’ve Got the Runs: Ed Brubaker’s Captain America

Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, 2005-2013 (Vol. 5 1-50, Reborn miniseries, renumbered 600-624, Vol. 6 1-19, Winter Soldier 1-14, assorted one-shots, minis)

The latest Captain America movie, in theaters April 4, exists for two reasons: One, because the first movie and subsequent Avengers movie made boatloads of money. Two: Ed Brubaker.

Brubaker spent nearly a decade swimming in the deepest ends of the Captain America mythos. And he started by taking The One Thing That Was Never Supposed to Happen and executing it in a way that was fanboy-complaint-proof. Wait, who am I kidding?

Bru did his homework on Cap, mining decades of Simon, Lee/Kirby, Steranko, Stern/Byrne, Mark Waid and more to craft a dark, cool spy thriller starring colorful, easily-written-off-as-uncool characters such as the guy who talks to birds, the guy whose face appears in the abdomens of robots and the French guy who fights with his feet, wears lots of purple and has a pointy mustache. Brubaker doesn't hide from the ridiculous parts of Cap's past. Instead, he welcomes them, gives them a warm blanket and a bowl of hot soup and says "Come on in here, fella, let's see what we can do to get you on your feet."

It should be noted that Brubaker had great help in these endeavors from artists like Steve Epting, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice, whose shadow-heavy lines helped strike the perfect high-espionage, low-cheese tone for the book.

"It's no secret that Cap, as a character, has had some great runs, but in between them he has also had some seriously not-so-great runs,” Bru writes in the forward to the first of three hardcover omnibi encapsulating his run. “What I cared about (was) the characters."

And somehow Brubaker manages to cram them all in: the Red Skull, Bucky, Sharon Carter, Nick Fury, Nomad, Falcon, Arnim Zola, Batroc the Leaper, Namor, the original Human Torch, Union Jack, Crossbones, Sin, Baron Blood, Dr. Faustus, Mother Night, Spitfire, AIM, Baron Zemo. Each with their own role to play in the magical history tour.

The run starts with Rogers at a low point, not long after the "Diassembled" storyline and the deaths of several Avengers (don’t worry, most of them got better, except for this guy). It’s the perfect time for the Red Skull to launch a multi-city terror plan involving a branch of AIM, his old henchman Crossbones and a cracked Cosmic Cube. Except he’s assassinated at the end of the first issue by the Winter Soldier, a “Cold War myth” revived by Aleksander Lukin, a Russian energy tycoon and former military.

In creating the Winter Soldier, Brubaker pulls a long-con retcon, rewriting Cap’s history all the way back to the Golden Age, but at no point did I roll my eyes like I did, say, when I found out Hal Jordan went crazy because he was possessed by a fear monster, or Xorn was real despite being made up or (insert your least-favorite retcon here).

Cap goes missing for entire issues, giving his supporting cast a chance to tell their (sometimes convoluted) stories. We see how Jack Monroe, the ’50s Bucky who spent the ’90s looking like Lorenzo Lamas in Renegade, lives his last months, and an entire issue is dedicated to Crossbones torturing Sin, the Red Skull's daughter, until she remembers who she is. PS: Crossbones and Sin come off like the Bane/Harley team-up the Batman writers never thought of.

Every few issues, though, all the puzzle pieces are put on the board at once, and you get to see Cap and Sharon, WS, Skull/Lukin and Sin/Crossbones all get in the way of each other, such as in issue 21.

The bulk of the run is collected in three hardcover omnibi. The first covers issues 1-25 and introduces the Winter Soldier and begins his redemption arc. The second covers issues 25-42 and starts with the death of Captain America and ends with WS assuming Cap's identity. The third covers issues 43-50, 600-601 (there was a renumbering), and the Reborn mini, and tells the stories of the new Cap leading up to the return of Steve Rogers and defeat of the Red Skull. Following those omnibi is the so-called "Heroic Age," the period during which original-recipe Cap served as "Commander Rogers," head of SHIELD, while WS continued in the stars and stripes. Not long into that period, new Cap's identity is outed, and WS is called to account for his Cold War crimes by both the U.S. and the former USSR.

One thing you have to wonder as you read on is whether the world will ever tire of these two men from the past – Cap and the Red Skull – imposing their World War II beef on the present, forcing Invaders team-ups, creating new Master Men, digging up old Doom Bots, forcing the past to repeat itself because it's the only world they understand. You can definitely see why, when Rick Remender took over the book, he decided to start with a story that involves almost no actual knowledge of Cap continuity outside of Cap good guy, Zola bad guy.

There is some repetition, which probably can’t be helped over eight years. There are at least two stories about small Midwest towns that are fronts for the science-terror cell AIM, one as Brubaker just begins tracing the Winter Soldier’s redemption arc, another in a backup strip not long before Fear Itself.

Brubaker’s run made such an impact that, not two years after his creation, the Winter Soldier appeared as a miniboss in the first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance video game. The soldier also appeared in a few episodes of Disney XD’s Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes cartoon, and Lukin’s Kronas Corp. building is part of the New York skyline in the Lego Super Heroes: Marvel Universe video game.

Final thought: The identity of the Winter Soldier was revealed fairly early in Brubaker’s run. Theoretically, his identity has been known to the public for nine years now. However, I took an informal, wholly unscientific Facebook poll, and there are still plenty of non-comics readers who don’t know, but who saw the first Cap movie, liked it, and plan on seeing the sequel. And while some of them have had the secret ruined for them by nerdy friends and spouses or by press for the movie, I prithee, let them be surprised. I mean, I thought it was obvious from the commercials that WS is the ski patrol guy from Hot Tub Time Machine, but I still wouldn’t mind seeing the movie with someone who, when they see the big reveal, drops their jaw in shock. I say let them have that moment.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/12

Batgirl #29
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Fernando Pasarin

Gail Simone's Batgirl has been a consistently enjoyable comic, one that does a good job of mixing action, emotion, and character. This most recent issue was the second part of a two part story where Batgirl and her friend and sometimes partner Strix, a Talon of the Court of Owls who abandoned the Court, are up against Silver, a vampire hunter who believes the Batman family are vampires who have taken control of Gotham. Silver is a good addition to the pantheon of anti-heroes or villains, as he is clearly unbalanced, but is trying to do something good. He has kidnapped a small child, but I don't think I'm spoiling too much of a twist when its revealed he was actually right and she is a vampire.Artist Fernando Pasarin does a great job drawing the fight scenes between Batgirl and Strix and Silver and his companion/valet Miss Targa; they're well choreographed martial arts fights. What I found very interesting was also an interaction between Batgirl and Strix. After Silver escapes at the beginning of the issue, Strix makes it clear to Batgirl that she will kill Silver if he has harmed the girl that was kidnapped. And while Strix tells Batgirl she will not kill, she is lying. And while there is no murder by issue's end, I think we're going to see further conflict between the two; Strix was trained to be a killer, and it'll be hard for her to break that training. Next issue is a fill in, and the one after that sees the return of one of my favorite Gail Simone creation, Ragdoll of Secret Six fame, so I have a feeling you'll be hearing about Batgirl again here soon.

Batman #29
Story: Scott Snyder
Art: Greg Capullo

Batman is one of the few books I right about here every month, and for good reason, and that reason isn't just that I love Batman. Scott Snyder has an excellent feel for Batman as a character, and his "Zero Year" story has been a great re-imagining of Batman's early days in Gotham. This issue marks the end of the second act of the story, called "Dark City," with Batman escaping the Riddler's death trap from the end of last issue to go and try to stop Riddler from taking over all of Gotham's technology. I believe it was Paul Dini who once said that Riddler is the hardest Batman villain to write, since he has to be as smart as Batman, and his plans need to make perfect sense on a second read through. Snyder has really captured this; Riddler feels like a real threat, something many writer have failed at, and a perfect intellectual nemesis for Batman, without descending into the unctuous snobbery of the Riddler in the Arkham video games. The issue also pays off the confrontation between Batman and Doctor Death, a freakishly re-imagined version of the first name villain Batman ever fought. That re-imagining is part of a truly impressive issue from artist Greg Capullo. Capullo has splash pages inspired by Frank Miller, as well as the horrible Dr. Death, and scenes of destruction in Gotham that sent shivers down my spine. The issue also has a scene with the Waynes and young Bruce, and its a scene that I feel is important. The Waynes are a touchstone in Bruce's life, the great incorruptible past, and seeing them with him, not as absentee parents who left their son for Alfred to watch, makes the great tragedy of Batman's life more resonant. "Savage City" begins next month, the concluding third of "Zero Year" where all the seeds Snyder has sewn will bear fruit. If he can pull this off, this is an arc that could go down as one of the great Batman stories; I'm hoping he can do it.

Batman : Li'l Gotham #12
Story & Art: Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

All good things... Batman: Li'l Gotham has been one of the most enjoyable books on the racks for the past year, and I've been expecting the final issue to really hit a high note, and I was right. The two stories are Thanksgiving and Christmas, and each show the charm and knowledge of Batman history that have defined this series. The first story sees Damian on the hunt for Jerry, the turkey he took on as a pet in the previous Thanksgiving installment, and winds up running afowl (see that pun, folks, that's why you read this blog) of the Condiment King. Yes, a Z-List villain created as a gag for Batman: The Animated Series who showed up one or twice as a gag in Chuck Dixon's run on the Bat titles. It's a fun story to see just how Damian has actually grown to care about the turkey, and to be less of a little sociopath. The final story is a Christmas tale of Alfred and Damian looking through a family album of the family. Pictures of Bruce growing up, as well as all the Robins, adorn the pages, and are narrated by Alfred and Damian's commentary. The issue is a survey of Batman's life, and shows a Batman that we'd never see in the mainstream comics: one who leaves gifts for the inmates at Arkham and gently carries his sleeping son to bed. Batman is a character with so many facets, it was nice to have a book on the racks that showed a different Batman.I hope that we see more Batman from Nguyen and Fridolfs sometime soon.

X-Files: Season 10 #10
Story: Joe Harris
Art: menton3

The X-Files was a TV series that depended on its mystery and mythology. It was a series where for every answer you got, you got three questions. With the debut of the comic series that picks up where the series left off, the mythology has picked back up, and there are new mysteries. One of the major mysteries was how various cast members long thought dead are back. This issue, "Further Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man," a follow up to a classic episode, gives us a few answers. The Cigarette Smoking Man, also known as Cancer Man, was one of the principal antagonists, and a character whose history was shrouded in mystery. This issue gives the reader snapshot views of moments in his past that may or may not be true. Ties to the Bay of Pigs and various other historic events, as well as his connection to the Mulder family, are explored, and moments with his own family show the history of the enigmatic figure. The art by menton3 is in the style of Ben Templesmith, heavily lined and full of shadow, works with the subject matter and character. As I said before, the issue gives the reader new questions to ask by the end, but those questions keep the reader coming back for more, and that's a big part of the appeal of The X-Files.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 3/5

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #3
Story: Sholly Fisch
Art: Dario Brizuela

Sholly Fisch's Scooby-Doo Team-Up is one of the most fun books on the rack. While absolutely an all ages book, and completely accessible to everyone, it also is full of great nods to DC Comics past and the history fo Scooby-Doo. Last issue featured the Mystery Analysts of Gotham from the 60s, including many classic DC detectives, and this issue brings us not only two serious C-List Bat villains, The Spook and False Face, and references to A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, but also brings in Bat-Mite. It reads like most Bat-Mite stories, with Bat-Mite coming in to "help" Batman and in the process making everything much worse, but adds in Scooby-Mite, a fifth dimensional imp who is Scooby-Doo's biggest fan. This leads to an amusing deconstruction of the whole Scooby-Doo formula that still shows the value of the characters. Fisch does a perfect job of blending the Caped Crusader and Mystery, Inc. It would surprise no one that Fisch wrote the tie-in comic for Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a series that was based around such blendings. The issue's end adds in another reference, this one to the Teen Titans cartoon that serves as a nice little cherry on top of the issue. If you enjoy Batman or Scooby-Doo this is a great issue to give a read.

She-Hulk #2
Story: Charles Soule
Art: Javier Pulido

Charles Soule has been doing a great job picking up where Scott Snyder  left off on Swamp Thing, but as good as that book is, his She-Hulk is an even more impressive feat. Two issues in, and it's already creeping high up on my list of best comics on the rack. After hanging out her shingle for her own law firm at the end of last issue, this issue sees Jen Walters, She-Hulk, attempting to get her firm going. We start to meet the rest of the cast of the series, including her new paralegal, Angie Huang, who has a pet monkey that goes everywhere with her and whose cryptic answers to Jen's questions clearly indicate there's more to her then meets the eye, and Sharon King, the owner of the building Jen has set up shop in, who is a mutant who lost her powers and now rents to exclusively super powered clientele. After a day of making no progress thanks to the law firm she left last issue who are out to blackball her, Jen heads out for a night on the town with Patsy Walker, another former Avenger, Hellcat. Patsy seems to be as hard up as Jen is, and when she gets a few too many in her, she leads Jen to assault an A.I.M. lab that she heard about. We get a short but comedic battle between two A.I.M. goons in cyber suits and Jen, and by the end of the battle, Jen has one more employee in Patsy. One of the nice touches is hearing the A.I.M. goons talking about how taking out She-Hulk will get back to his higher ups and help him make more money to support his kids. That kind of dialogue adds a nice touch of realism to the book. The final page looks to be setting up Jen's first big case and setting her firmly in the sights of one of the Marvel Universe's biggest bads. If you've been enjoying Marvel's sleeper hit Hawkeye, this is definitely a book you should be reading.

Velvet #4
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting

Velvet is a great example of everything Image Comics is doing right. It reads like nothing else on the rack and takes it's genre by the throat and does amazing things with it. After her disastrous mission in the previous issue to Belgrade, Velvet Templeton has a lead on Agent X-14's movements, hopefully getting her closer to who framed her for murder. Set in Monaco at the Carnival of Fools, we get Steve Epting at his best, drawing opulent and realistic backgrounds and characters in classy clothes and wild costumes. Velvet is hunting Roman, and Ex-KGB agent who has gone freelance, and finds him at a casino, playing Baccarat. Brubaker makes a fun joke about Baccarat, something I think many of us who have read James Bond has thought, and pretty soon, Velvet is caught up in another fight with spies. The fight scenes that Brubaker writes and Epting draws are brutal, and I like the internal monologue playing in Velvet's head; Brubaker makes it clear that fighting isn't a game to Velvet, that this is part of the job and she's willing to do anything to end it as quickly as possible. The issues ends with some classic spy banter, and another hint of Velvet's mysterious past. Brubaker has done a great job of balancing the plot driving each individual issue with the overarcing plot of the series, allowing for each issue to feel almost complete in itself, something many writer's can't do. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier, based on a series by this book's creative team, coming out in less than a month, this is a great time to jump onto Brubaker and Epting's creator owner spy series.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Recommended Reading for 3/7: JL8

And now for something slightly different...

I've written about Tiny Titans before, the Art Baltazar/Franco Aureliani book about the sidekicks of superheroes as little kids in Sidekick Elementary. Well, this week I'm writing about a webcomic, the first one I've ever specifically recommended. It's called JL8, written and drawn by Yale Stewart, and when I heard about it, I thought it was going to be similar to Tiny Titans, only featuring the Justice League. But it's something else entirely, and something really great at that.

JL8 centers around the students at Schwartz Elementary (named for DC Editor Julie Schwartz, the editor known to be principally responsible for the Silver Age at DC Comics), and their adventures in and around school. It's a blend of schoolyard hijinks, character pieces, comedy, and a little bit of action here and there. Stewart does a great job in balancing the humor with the character, like many a good comic strip does. The characters are all eight years old, and the plots maintain a threat level that works with small kids; the main nemesis we've seen the young heroes deal with is a schoolyard Legion of Doom, but we'll get to them later.

The principal cast of the strip are most of the traditional Justice League, and read perfectly like younger versions of those characters. Clark (Superman) is kind and thoughtful. His best friend, Bruce (Batman), is brooding and a bit standoffish, but is a great friend to Clark. Barry (Flash) is always in a hurry, and talks faster than he thinks. Hal (Green Lantern) is swaggering and confident. Diana (Wonder Woman) is sweet, but maybe the toughest of the kids. J'onn (Martian Manhunter) is the transfer student from Mars, still learning what it's like to be an Earth kid. The one main cast member who isn't one of the original JLA is Karen (Power Girl); it's nice to have another girl in the cast to give Diana a girl friend to talk to. She's spunky, and loves ponies.

Stewart's webcomic works like a classic comic strip, where each installment stands on its own, but if you read for a little while, you get caught up in the larger plotlines that he's been building for some time now. The strange little kid "romance" between Bruce and Karen has been going for a while, with Bruce revealing he likes Karen, and her being interested since he has horses. Or the various scenes of J'onn learning about what it means to be an Earth kid.

There have been a couple of major arcs over the course of the series. In one, Bruce, Clark, and Hal save a grandma from a mugger, and when the paper calls them "kids," they get tough new costumes to show what big guys they are (costumes that funnily resemble the New 52 versions of their costumes), but there's a lesson about heroism and what it means to be a grown up that is smartly done. There's also the story of Diana's birthday party, where we see a lot of typical kids party tropes, mixed with a bunch of party chaperones who are Amazons and a clown that Bruce really doesn't like.

There are some strips that really stick out for me. A personal favorite of mine is strip 27. In the previous strip, Bruce left Clark at Clark's house, and after seeing the warm welcome Clark got from his parents, Bruce walks away looking sad. So the next strip picks up right after.

That little bit of character there, developing the relationship of Bruce and Alfred, is not just heartwarming, but it does a good job of fleshing out Bruce, who is often portrayed a grumpy and a know it all.

Aside from the well thought out plotlines and cute young versions of the Justice League, the series is littered with DCU cameos and easter eggs for those who know their DC Comics. Julie Schwartz, who I mentioned earlier, is the kids teacher, Darkseid is the gym teacher (a better job than his lunchlady gig in Tiny Titans), and Neil Gaiman owns the local bookshop. Other DC Comics characters pop up in the background or in cameos, and there have been a couple of great ones from Mikey and Ted (Booster Gold and Blue Beetle). In the same vein, if you know your "Bwa-ha-ha!" era of Justice League, then this strip is worth a good laugh.

The other recurring group of characters are what I think of as the Lil' Legion of Doom. They're all recognizable, but I have to admit, I love the version of the Joker the most (not exactly shocking, huh?). Not a clown yet, he's still the Red Hood, made clear by his red hoodie, which is a great touch. Aside from Joker, we get Lex Luthor, Cheetah, Captain Cold, Toyman, Poison Ivy, and Solomon Grundy.

JL8 is a webcomic that does so many things right. It takes advantage of the serialized format, and does fun things with characters that you wouldn't see in DC Comics. It's an all ages strip that you can share with your kids to help foster a love of these great characters, and isn't that something that we all should do?

JL8 is updated usually twice a week, and can be found HERE. You can also follow the strip on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oh Warren, You and Your Ideas

Writer Warren Ellis launches a new volume of Moon Knight for Marvel this week, with art by Declan Shalvey. In many ways, Ellis is the perfect writer for this character, whom he previously worked with in a six-issue run on Secret Avengers in 2011. Ellis is a man who loves throwing high-concept, futuristic, pseudoscientific ideas at the wall to see if they stick, and Moon Knight is the vessel of vengeance for an Egyptian moon god or something. In a recent CBR interview, Ellis said of writing MK, “You can get really weird. Also, you can provide, as an entire plotline, the sentence ‘punching ghosts,’ and nobody bats an eyelid.” Stop. You had me at hello, I’m Warren Ellis.

As we look to Moon Knight’s future, let us also look to the past, to but a small sampling of Ellis’ most outrĂ© ideas:

The alien race that killed its own god (Excalibur): In 1994, Marvel gave Ellis the then-third-tier X-book Excalibur to infuse with his dark, distinctly British sensibility. Among his first acts was creating the snarky but haunted spook Pete Wisdom and teaming him up with not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman Kitty Pryde. Together they discovered Wisdom's employer, Black Air, was experimenting on an alien race called the Uncreated, self-named because they killed their own deity as a means to conquer their inferiority complex. After doing so, the race traveled the stars looking to exterminate any lifeforms that did not embrace their atheism. Ellis next used the Uncreated in 1995's Starjammers miniseries, in which the titular space pirates defeated the nasties by projecting an image of their god, leading the Uncreated to commit seppuku. (For more on Ellis’ Excalibur run, read Matt’s Recommended Reading column from last May.)

The most obvious visual representation of Darwinism ever? (Storm 1-4): Ellis and Terry Dodson did a four-issue Storm mini in early 1996 that picked up a few dangling Morlock/Gene Nation plot threads from earlier in the ’90s. Storm is shunted into an alternate dimension run by Colossus’ brother Mikhail Rasputin, last seen flooding the Morlock tunnels and disappearing with the undercity dwellers. In Rasputin’s pocket world, where time moves in erratic patterns, the Morlocks were trained to become Gene Nation terrorists by climbing The Hill. Literally, every denizen of this world had to scale and survive a giant hill to prove their fitness and worth to Rasputin.

The bowel disrupter (Transmetropolitan): “Now, what setting? Watery, loose … prolapse.” One of Ellis’ greatest triumphs and crazy-idea farms is this 60-issue Vertigo series starring Spider Jerusalem, a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson whose work for The Word uncovers the dirty deeds of one president after another and puts a big old target on his back. It’s a near-future world in which people fight for the right to change species and there’s a children’s show called “Sex Puppets.” There’s also a gun that makes people poop themselves, which Jerusalem uses to threaten stripper turned “filthy assistant” Channon Yarrow and actually uses on the president known as The Beast in issue #4 in 1997.

Superman and Batman as a gay power couple (The Authority): Ellis ported Superman analogue Apollo and Batman analogue Midnighter from Stormwatch to The Authority. In their new book, the two were revealed to be a gay couple. Back in 1999, this didn't happen all that often, and so the book received a GLAAD award. Arguably these two paved the way for other gay couples in comics such as Northstar and Kyle Jinadu, Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer, and Wiccan and Hulkling.

Right-tool-for-the-job expert-dispatch service (Global Frequency): This 2002-04 Wildstorm book may be the best example of what happens when Ellis favors concepts over characters. Global Frequency was a 1,001-member organization (about on par with Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers cast) of the world’s foremost experts in their field, who are called in as crises warrant based on field of expertise and proximity. In a way it was like a super-serious version of G.I. Joe, with a mix of military, intelligence, scientists, ex-cons and the like all working to save the world, except the characters didn’t stick around long enough for anyone to decipher who the Shipwreck and Roadblock analogues were. Even the artists changed from issue to issue. Also it was almost a TV show.

The guy who buggers cars (Two-Step): In 2003-04, Ellis wrote a quickie three-issue miniseries for Wildstorm with Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti about a bored, cheeky London camgirl named Rosi and a zen gun-for-hire named Tony who run afoul of a gang whose trademark is having artificially large wedding tackle. Among their number is a Baby Huey of a man named Ron who enjoys having sex with cars to the point where they explode. According to TLC’s My Strange Addiction, this is a real thing.

Having Iron Man inside you (Iron Man: Extremis): In 2005-06, Ellis got to tinker with Iron Man's origin, tying the creation of the first Iron Man suit to the war in Afghanistan as part of a six-issue arc that introduces the concept of Extremis, a nanotech virus that allows fir the constant healing and enhancing of the body in the latest attempt to re-create the Super Soldier Serum that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. Tony infects himself with Extremis and in so doing becomes one with Iron Man, allowing parts of it into his bones and give his brain a complete upgrade. Elements of the Extremis story were used in the Iron Man movies, including the updated origin story.

Supervillain marketing (Thunderbolts 110-121): Ellis took over Thunderbolts after Civil War in 2007-08. During that period, the ’Bolts were Colorado’s Initiative superteam and were run by a Tommy Lee Jones-looking Norman Osborn. Osborn used his business acumen (when he wasn’t using his crazy acumen) to market the team through Saturday morning cartoon commercials, brainwashing kids into rooting for psychotic killers like Bullseye, Venom and the Strucker twin who was in love with his dead sister.

Honorable mention: Warren’s novel ideas (Crooked Little Vein, 2007; Gun Machine, 2013): Ellis’ two published novels are every bit as idea-rich as his comics. Without going too deep into either, it should be noted that in Crooked Little Vein, the two main characters inject saline into their genitals to artificially swell them and then have sex, and in Gun Machine, a Wall Street financier explains that the key to the future of financial-market real estate is pingback, the time it takes information to transmit from a given location, to ensure the fastest, most competitive buying and selling.